Christmas time has come and gone – as has the annual Grinchmas celebration here at Universal Studios Hollywood. This year saw another successful event, and was different from past offerings in many ways, both for better and for worse. So what was so different about the 2013 holiday season, and why?
As we prepare for a rebuilding year in the park, we first turn to the major moments of 2013, starting with the final big event of the year. For this retrospective, we’ll be discussing several areas of the event, from the decor to the delightful characters roaming the Whoville streets.
Let’s take a look at some of the hits and misses of Grinchmas 2013.
Universal makes it clear that it’s the holidays each year, and puts forth quite the effort to brighten up the park. This year did not disappoint, as we saw the movie magic statue and fountain just inside the park entrance drained and filled with bright poinsettias. The statues themselves were adorned with Santa hats, and the wreaths strung up from nearby light wires brought Christmas cheer to parkgoers from the moment they stepped inside.
There was no shortage of lights and tinsel on every shrub and tree, and a dusting of faux snow atop doorways and rooftops. A plethora of Grinch themed merchandise in every shop added to the scenery leading down the main pathway, holding guests’ eyes until they reached Universal Plaza.
And Universal Plaza is where the real decorative magic happened.
This year, the newly-opened Universal Plaza played home to the Grinchmas Arena, the same space in which the event was held previously, but re-shaped and newly re-formed. Plaza was gorgeous to begin with, but made to look like downtown Whoville, it was stunning. Bright, colorful, eye-popping, and filled with happy Whos – that would be the image I took away from the event. The Grinchmas tree was as impressive as usual, readily visible from around the upper lot.
The lower lot sadly does not get the kind of attention that the upper lot does – but it’s still lovely to see Santa hats on the dilophosaurs in Jurassic Park: The Ride. Now if only they could put one on the final T-Rex…
The overall look of the event was great, and made the park feel welcoming. I would give the decor a 4/5.
This is where the Grinchmas event really stands out – the characters who bring Whoville to life! The actors and actresses playing the denizens of Whoville hit the mark and then some, as they do every season. Every Who I interacted with was fun, cheerful, and deep into character. The costumes were well thought out and the detailing was amazing – such as the pencils in the hair of the school teacher Who, and the Book of Who in Cindy Lou’s pocket.
The Whoville singers – who resembled a boy band quartet – were also very good, and played up to the young girls in the crowd in particular. The actors all took great care with children especially, who were delighted by the costumes and the Whos’ signature noses, created by excellent makeup work.
My personal favorite characters were and always are the Grinch himself (of course) and the Mayor of Whoville. The Grinch has to wear a full body suit and deal with makeup, prosthetics, and hot lights for long stretches of time, but I have never met a Grinch actor who wasn’t perpetually pleasant and true to the character. The Mayor has always been a favorite of mine, and he also did not disappoint. He was as pompous and self-important as his on-screen counterpart and the adults loved him.
Even the non-Who characters (such as the British Carolers and the wandering minstrel Chimney Sweeps) brought an extra level of dedication to their parts.
Overall, the characters really made the event for me. There’s no Grinchmas without the Grinch! I give them a 5/5
The characters and decor combined for a festive and friendly vibe throughout the park. The only mood killer was the crowding! The upper lot is a mass of construction right now, and I felt the crowds everywhere I went. The crowding led to some grouchy guests, but the majority of the park felt like it should.
Due to the congestion and poor crowd control during the week of Christmas, I’d have to give the atmosphere a 3/5. Neither overly good or overly awful, but the crowd control has got to be a priority as we move into a peak spring and summer of crowds and construction.
Here’s a place where I’m truly torn. This was the real hit and miss aspect of the event this year – the things to do.
Storytime with Cindy Lou was a new activity that featured Cindy Lou Who telling stories to children and interacting with them. The Whoville Singers and the photo ops with the Grinch were great as well.
What wasn’t great? The cookie decorating. And why? Because they cost about $7 a shot. Per cookie. If I wanted to decorate cookies and spend $7, I would go to the store and buy enough to make several dozen at the same cost. That was a definite miss in my books. The ornament decorating wasn’t as bad, but the ornaments were simple color and cut paper ornaments that were placed on trees and likely thrown out at the end of the day.
The highly popular snow play area was eliminated this year, much to the chagrin of locals who have grown used to it. To some, the snow was an unnecessary addition to begin with, but to others, it was a great chance to play in the snow for people who don’t often get to see it.
The tree lighting ceremony, which has been the highlight of Grinchmas for the last few years, was scaled down from a full-length theme park show to a three minute head-scratcher. It felt more like a street show than an actual sit-down show as it used to be.
The part that I missed most was the celebrity reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Though the celebrities who came to read were often B-List actors, it was still fun to see how different people made the book come to life.
The removal and down-scale of several of the old favorite elements was a let down for many, while the inclusion of a few new features was positive to others. Overall, I give the activities a solid 3/5. The few activities they had were good, but the lack of others was a drop in quality compared to previous years. It was a hard act to follow from the previous incarnations of the event, but Universal still did an okay job with what they did have.
This year’s Grinchmas was good. Not great, but good. Despite the flaws and a few gripes, the event was solid. It was fun, it had more things to do, the overall production value was top notch, and even with a few crowd control issues, it felt friendly.
For those who attend the event every year, it had good and bad moments. For guests who attended this event for the first time, I’m sure it was wonderful. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit let down. Probably because the 2010 and 2011 Grinchmas events were so above and beyond my expectations. Next year’s event will be different – as will the entire park by then. Perhaps Grinchmas 2014 will be a triumphant return to form. Until then, we have the promise of a new ride – and a new year of thrills.
As always, thank you for making Inside Universal your source for all things Universal Studios Hollywood. Thanks for reading!
Photos by Bernard Mesa.
Adriana Morgan – also known by her internet handle Miss Betty Juice – is an editor for Inside Universal.
Adriana made her first trip to Universal in 1995 during Nickelodeon’s Big Help-A-Thon, and was hooked from day one. Since that first trip, her passion for films and for Universal Studios has grown, and she continues to enjoy the park and its history today as an annual passholder and a reporter for Inside Universal. Her areas of Universal expertise include Jurassic Park, the Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue, and the Studio Tour.
Adriana currently resides in Los Angeles. You can reach her at her blog on Tumblr at MyUniversalExperience.tumblr.com, or at email@example.com.